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Gendered Flânerie in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

What follows is an abstract for a paper I will be presenting at the 24th Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf, “Writing the World,” to be held at the Mundelein Center on Loyola University Chicago, 1020 W. Sheridan Road, on June 5-8, 2014. Specifically, on Sunday, June 8, at 9 a.m. in Mundelein 603, I will be speaking alongside Candis Bond and Yike He as part of a Concurrent Session on Flânerie and City Spaces. I will also be giving a follow-up presentation entitled “‘Countless tiny deportations’ and Virginia Woolf’s Modernist ‘Street Haunter'” at Modernism Now!, the British Association for Modernist Studies (BAMS) international conference to be hosted by the Institute of English Studies, Senate House, London, on June 26-28, 2014, speaking alongside Elizabeth Pritchett, Tara S. Thomson, and Faye Harland as part of their Gender and Modernism panel at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 29 (location TBA).

In “Street Haunting: A London Adventure,” Virginia Woolf lauds those taking the time to separate from daily life’s normal structuring forces and to fully absorb their surroundings, specifically, the urban space that houses their community. Her “street haunters” experience moments as opening with previously invisible surfaces evoking familial memory and ever-mobile cultural identity. Such astute passersby exercise not only incredible powers of perceptiveness but also empathetic creativity. Written in the shadow of World War I, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway provides an interesting case study to examine the kinds of societies of passersby that street haunting can create as the novel portrays an ever-multiplying cast of flaneurs, few—if any—of whom feel full belonging in the place they call home. I examine this novel’s many different narrative perspectives to argue that, while, for Woolf, male flâneurs fall into the dandyish model depicted by Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin, her female characters demonstrate alternative points of view and resistant ways of being that suggest their gender has enforced their turn toward more creative modes of engagement with the world as they deploy what Michel de Certeau calls “tactics” and the capacious empathy Woolf describes in “Street Haunting.” Drawing on Deborah Parsons’s work, I suggest that the different circumstances grounding men’s and women’s interactions with the city manifest themselves in that the female flâneur must creatively reorganize local geography in any of a variety of ways to engage with her surroundings, while her male counterparts may leave the city as they find it.

Posted in abstract, cosmopolitanism, flanerie, literature, Michel de Certeau, modernism, theories of the city, Virginia Woolf.

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